Tuesday 27 October 2015

Book review: The Bridal Pyre

Nainam chindanti sastrani
Nainam dahati pavakah
Na chainam kledayantyapo
Na sosayati marutah

The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind, preached Sri Krishna to Arjuna. But several women's heart, soul, dreams, wishes, aspirations, hope, existence, pride, identity is burnt in the offering given to the holy fire during their wedding ceremony. Marriage is for only namesake, in fact it becomes the funeral pyre which consumes them there and then itself. Meera was burnt in one such pyre and her heart wrenching story is the plot of Avantika Debnath's debut novel - The Bridal Pyre: Nainam Dahati Pavakah (2015).

Protagonist Meera is well educated, works in an MNC and earns a handsome salary. She bumps into the profile of an NRI, Abhijit, on a matrimonial site and initially refuses to accept his proposal. But after talking to him over the phone and Skype for nearly three months, without even meeting him in person even once, she readily accepts to marry him. Yes, he brainwashes her in such a way that she gives up her dance, which was her soul and even quits her job to marry him. 

Meera realises that the castle Abhi had built was merely of sand and all his promises were fake. His parents, especially his mother, taunts her every day and make her life a living hell. Abhi loses his job in the US and stoops down to misuse Meera's savings. He goes on to support his mother and father who mentally and physically harass Meera. 

Abhi watches silently when his mother pushes pregnant Meera downstairs. Meera suffers a miscarriage and she loses faith on her husband completely. After 11 months of pain, Meera rebels and questions her husband and mother-in-law about their greed for money and gold. Abhi's mother, who had killed her own mother-in-law, who had earlier attempted to kill Meera, tries to kill Meera again. But Meera escapes by rushing outside and saving her life. 

Meera goes back to her parents and decides to face the society and fight for justice.  Did she succeed in getting justice? What are the hurdles she faced after leaving her husband forms the climax of the novel. Readers are treated with several expected and unexpected twists and turns in the later half of the novel. 

The language is simple, and yes the narration wins the hearts of readers. Readers feel that Meera is an old childhood friend who is narrating her story to them. At one point or the other readers, especially women, can identify themselves with the protagonist. The story of Meera is sure to haunt readers for several days. 

Monday 26 October 2015

I said yes to divorce, so what's the big deal?!

was waiting in a queue at the passport office. The Officer at the counter glanced at my form, and circled the most vital piece of my identity:  “Divorce!” he exclaimed.  “I want to see the divorce papers.” He demanded. I complied, directing him to the page of the order, while he sneaked through the pages with the mediation report and other parts of my personal life I would have rather buried.
You remarrying?”  He asked.
Had I not planned that vacation in Singapore the following month, I would not have entertained his questions. But, desperate for a passport, I gratified his curiosity.  “No”, I replied.
He probably thought that I was trying to regain my lost social repute by remarrying, my ultimate redemption. Why else would a divorcee want a passport in tatkaal (emergency) anyway?
It is amazing how in a country like India, a very short-lived marriage of few months or even few days earns you a heavy-burden of a lifetime label: “Divorcee”. I could never comprehend that term. It is a noun: like man, woman, cat, elephant.
I am a woman…I am an Indian…I am a teacher… I am a divorcee!
It has an inherent definition of who I am, with catastrophic permanence. Was I born a divorcee? Will my grave read, “The divorcee?”
But ofcourse, we are so obsessed with marriage, how can we accept its termination! I remember an episode of Satyamev Jayate where a homosexual person narrated his horrified parents’ reaction upon his revelation:
“Who will marry you?”
In India, since birth, every decision strategically revolves around marriage. A girl is born. Father starts depositing money in FDs for her marriage. A boy is forced to be an engineer, so that he gets a handsome salary (and a good wife). A girl’s “honour”, her most prized possession, is safeguarded from rumored affairs to hidden cameras in the trial-room — all to attain the prime objective and purpose of life, and validation of one’s existence – Marriage.
What is even more ridiculous, is that a wedding is given more importance than marriage itself.  Remember what the lawyer outside the court tells Manu Sharma’s character in Tanu weds Manu Returns:
Shadi-biyah ka khel mehanga khel hai. Divorce ka kya hai – 50 Rupaye mein paper ban jayega.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by my lawyer as well, and other custodians of society: “Are you sure you want a divorce, your father had spent a lot of money on the wedding!”
Yes, I am sure that I have made the right decision. Money can come back. My life won’t.  My youth can’t. I know that many find me ‘tainted’. So be it. I am blessed that their very reactions condemn them. They spare me the time and energy of getting to know them. They give away their mentality, instantly. And it is worthless.
They frown upon the rising divorce rates in western countries, and boast of how our wonderful culture still binds together people in holy matrimony? Is this statistics really something to be so proud of? It’s not like we are in Denmark — The world’s happiest nation as per the UN’s World Happiness Report 2015!
Speaking of statistics, I am not even quoting the cases of domestic violence, dowry deaths, forced abortions, marital rape, abandonment, adultery, and other atrocities that people suffer in bad marriages. Why should anybody need to justify that they were victims of the former list of acceptable grounds of divorce?
Why can’t we be progressive enough to accept that sometimes two people, even good people can just somehow not build a good life together, and in such a scenario it is best to part ways, rather than sentence themselves to infinite misery? Do we not have the right to make a choice for our own life, peace and happiness?
Infact, the stigma attached to divorce is so horrible in India that there are separate matrimonial sites for divorced people, who are outcastes from the discriminatory mainstream marriage market. As the well-meaning Shukla aunty summarised to me with much sympathy and consolation, “You will find somebody else, but not a “fresh” guy!”
Am I stale? Like a perishable, used, food product? Does one failed relationship define my character? My existence?  My life?
No wonder many divorced people’s matrimonial profiles describe them as “Innocent divorcees”.
As opposed to what — Guilty divorcees?
Am I guilty? Because I violated the sacred institution of marriage and disembarked from the very social fabric of society?
An online article from a leading newspaper reads as follows:
“Marrying a divorcee is a tough proposition, but does it always conclude in bitterness? In a marriage where one or both partners are divorced, the couple has to deal with blame games, suspicion and contempt.”
I would like to ask this relationship coach:
When marrying a non-divorcee, do you know everything about that person? They could be liars, cheaters, bullies, abusers or worse. They could have committed other sins. Sins more serious than unsuccessful previous marriages.
You would not know. You do not know the past, or the future of your partner in any relationship. You just know that you like them in the present and go ahead with that conviction. But just because you know that somebody has been divorced, does that give you the right to judge them, mistrust their past and be skeptical of their future?
It is not the divorce that is shameful, but the burden to live in a detrimental marriage for fear of society –
Till death do us apart…
Source: akkarbakkar.com

Tuesday 20 October 2015

'My mother-in-law pushed me down the stairs and killed my baby'

In this family that I was married into, it was perfectly acceptable to demand lacs and lacs of money from the daughter-in-law’s father, but if the daughter-in-law walks out of the house to work and earn money, it is considered a big hit on the family’s so-called prestige.
I am sure, the likes of this family are thriving in every nook-n-corner of this nation. Strange is the direction of the thought process that guides such people. If the bride supports the family with her hard-earned money, the inflated ego of the husband gets hurt. But, no one will know when the father of the bride transfers money from his account to his son-in-law’s account. No one will know when the mother of the bride brings her jewelry in a lunch box and hands them over to the mother of the groom to sell them or use them to her heart’s desire.
No one will know.
“I have returned that money to dad.” I replied. “Abhi told me he wanted that money only to show, not to use, so once the purpose was done; I transferred the money back to dad’s account.” I replied to my mother-in-law
“What? You returned all that money to your father? What an alaksmigirl God has given me as a daughter-in-law! Why did you return the money to your father?”
“Because that was my baba’s money, and it belonged in my baba’s account.”
“Really? Good. You are your baba’s daughter and you belong to him as well. Now just like the money is back in his bank account, you go back to his house.” She said pulling my hand and dragging me out of my room. I tried to free my wrist from her fastening, but she had quite a grip.
“Leave my hand, maa. If you want me to go, I will go, let go of my hand.”
“What way of talking to maa is that, Meera?” Abhi reprimanded me, himself intimated by his mother.

“Leave my hand, maa. I will go.” I tried some force to pull my hand out of her grip while she pulled me near the staircase.
“Fine, go then.” She stood at the edge of the staircase and pushed me down with all her strength. I rolled over to the first division of the stairs. I had fallen flat on my stomach, I suffered an acute pain. A pain I had never felt before, never experienced before, never known of before. ‘Oh! What kind of pain is that!’ I placed my right hand on my stomach trying to pacify the pain. It didn’t help.
I tried to pull my left hand too, to place it on my stomach. But I realized, I couldn’t move my left hand. And then I felt that I was suffering a killing pain at my left wrist too. I just couldn’t move my left hand. I turned my head at my immovable hand, it appeared disfigured. It’s not the way my hand is supposed to look.
“Abhi…” I stretched my right hand towards him seeking help. He was standing beside his mother at the edge of the staircase looking down at me, trying to understand what had just happened. He was about to come down the stairs, but his mother held his hand and yelled, “Papushona! If you dare help her, know that you are not born out of one father.”
He froze.
I wasn’t shocked that Abhi didn’t come down to help me. I wasn’t shocked at his cowardice. I was shocked at my stupidity of asking help from him. I regained the control of my mind. I knew, I was the one who was hurt, and I was indeed the only one who could help.
I pulled my hand back and pressed my lower abdomen. My left hand lay motionless just like my legally, socially, religiously wedded husband stood static upstairs looking down at me. I tried to find some support on the wall, somehow trying to pull myself together. I could feel something on my palm. Something wet. I brought my right palm in front of my face.
I looked at my hand, I found blood. Soon, my yellow saree was drenched in red. I could see the blood flowing down the stairs. I couldn’t feel the pain in my abdomen or wrist any more. Because the pain that emerged in my heart was infinite times greater than the physical ordeal my body was going through. My eyes followed the blood flowing out of my body, and covering the steps of the stairs, one after the other.
Toffee rushed in. Though my mother-in-law tried to stop her by blocking her way, she hurried towards me. She sniffed the blood, and then looked at me. As I kept my hand on my abdomen again, she licked my hand. My tormented face had a throbbing expression. I was gasping for air. My throat became dry. No tears.
Tears, I guess, I saw in that animal’s eyes while she sniffed through the blood that was flowing down the stairs and then looked into my eyes.
Abhi’s mother paced down stairs to get the mop. Once his mother was out of sight, my husband gathered some courage to come down to me. He walked me to the washroom and stood outside while I cleaned myself. The blood would just not stop. The white tile of the bathroom floor was red with my blood. I had never witnessed a sight as dreadful as that ever.
“Papushona…. tell her, not to touch the bathroom walls with her bloody hands. We got the house white-washed just before your wedding.” I heard my mother-in-law’s voice from inside the kitchen downstairs, loud enough to be heard inside the bathroom on the first floor.
I somehow managed to drain my blood down the washroom pit, and struggle to wrap the towel around me with my right hand. My left hand was still numb and appeared disfigured. But I couldn’t afford to give much attention to my hand; I was fearing a far greater loss. On opening the bathroom door, I found Abhi standing still. My heart warned me against looking into his eyes, but I looked.
They say, eyes of a man are the reflection of his heart, mind and soul. So I dived into his eyes that day.
I tried going deep into him through his eyes, and explore every corner of his soul. I was desperately trying to find some remnants of human conscience. But I failed. I failed myself. I looked away. I was just about to place my only conscious hand on the wall outside the bathroom when I saw Abhi extending his hand to catch mine. I froze my movement for a while.
“It’s okay, Abhi. I have washed the blood off my hand. Don’t worry. I won’t mess up the wall.”
My heart refused Abhi’s support, and this time I didn’t disobey its decision. I scaled through the wall to my room. I was careful enough not to touch Abhi for support or let him hold me. With great struggle I had washed his last remains from my tired body.
“Don’t touch me anymore, Abhi. I will be sullied. This fatigued body of mine has no strength to clean itself again.”

Note: The above is an excerpt from the novel, The Bridal Pyre – Nainam Dahati Pawakah, by Avantika Debnath. 

Thursday 15 October 2015

Saturday 10 October 2015

Book review: Wondering Who You Are

Do you remember Balu Mahendra's Moondram Pirai Tamil film which came out in 1982? Ok, how about Sadma which came out in 1983? Sridevi and Kamal Hassan had mesmerized the audience with their fabulous performance in it. Sridevi plays the role of a young modern girl who meets with an accident and loses her memory and behaves like a seven-year-old girl. Kamal Hassan rescues her from a brothel and brings her home and spends several months together sharing an amazing and innocent relationship that treads the tender line between affection and love. 

Kamal takes Sridevi to the village's medical practitioner who cures her and brings her back to sanity as she regains her memory up to the point of her accident. When kamal comes to meet Sridevi later that day, she is unable to identify or remember him. Despite his efforts to make her understand that he was the one who had taken care of her for several months, she is indifferent to him and leaves the place for her hometown, thus abandoning kamal and the life and relationship that she once had with him.

How about facing such a situation in real life? After going through such a situation in her own life, Sonya Lea writes 'Wondering Who You Are: A Memoir' (2015) and tells the world how the course of her life changed completely after her husband forgot who he was and what relationship he shared with her and their two children during their blissful married life of 23 years. 

When Sonya and Richard were entering their 23rd year of married life, Richard was diagnosed with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, also known as PMP, a very rare and deadly appendix cancer. He agrees to go through HIPEC, popularly called as Mother of all surgeries, which included a 10-hour grueling operation. Miraculously, Richard survives the surgery, but unfortunately forgets his past -- due to lack of oxygen supply to his brain all his memories were completely erased! 

He struggles to know who he is and the people around him. The man who went to the hospital was completely different from the man who came out. He does not even know how to talk or smile let alone remember his family. His situation not only put himself in trouble, but also his family members, especially the author, who continuously strives to help him regain his memory. 

The author does not hesitate to reveal her bad side and his bad side even though her husband had no memory of them. She goes on to build a new relationship, a new life with him. In a way, it is not Richard who asks "wondering who you are", but the author herself as she questions herself what is the role and place that she holds in the life of Richard, a new man, a complete stranger after the surgery. It's difficult to live with a stranger under the same roof, but hats off to the author, she not only lived with him,  but also found a new life with him. 

The book intertwines both her love story and the hospital days and readers instantly fall in love with the style of narration and the bitter truth, sometimes too private, the author dares to tell the world. 

The book looks like an answer to the questions asked by Richard in the hospital bed. She is fortunate that Richard loves her more than before and tries his very best to impress her. He does every possible thing to keep her happy, even agrees to her wish of having a boyfriend! 

One has to laud the efforts of Sonya for helping Richard in all the ways. She keeps encouraging him to regain memory, helps join back his job, and what more the way she stands like a strong pillar during his worse days is more than enough one can expect from a wife. 

As Sonya says Richard is a puzzle, a mystery for her, in fact, she herself is a mystery as she found a new love and life with him. Readers get the perspective of Sonya throughout and one wonders how Richard feels about the whole incident. But then one has to keep in mind that Richard has not regained his memory completely and he is constructing his memory based upon what his wife and children are telling him. So maybe this is where Sonya's perspective becomes important, not only to Richard, but also to readers. 

The book is interesting and keeps readers glued to it. It has everything, love, loss, confusion, deathbed, family, sex, health, most importantly memory loss and identity crisis. The book begins in a faraway western country and ends in the nearby Haridwar, bringing both East and West together in thoughts. Readers fall in love with the author's way of story narration and simple language. 

Note: This review was originally published in Sakhi magazine here:  http://sakhiexpress.epapr.in/584319/Sakhi/15-September-2015#dual/24/1

Friday 9 October 2015

Varanasi in the eyes of a Westerner

Varanasi in the eyes of a foreigner

There have been so many books by westerners on Varanasi and the new addition to the list is Piers Moore Ede's Kaleidoscope City: A year in Varanasi. The writer explored the city during his one year stay and has given several interesting incidents that happened. He has successfully shown the other face, the darker one, the one which often gets missed by tourists, of the city. 

Whoever visits the city tries to grasp and go deep inside the veins to understand the pulse of the place and its people. Don't know if anyone has been successful in doing so, but everyone, including Ede, has understood that Death reigns here! 

Earlier writers have seen Varanasi in their eyes and seems to give their own perspective and it is where Ede differs from others. He never gives an impression that he knows everything about the city and its people despite living there for one year. He is eager to learn things happening in the city like a little child who is anxious to explore the world around. He patiently listens to people and keeps his curiosity to unravel the city till the end. 

Harishchandra ghat, the Ganga river, Varanasi, all become characters and breathe life in the book. Though he has tried to go deeper and personal into the lives of locals one wonders if he has been successful in it, as obviously there are two chances: one, people may open their personal secrets to him fearing no threat to their private life; second, people may exaggerate things to get sympathies or say things superficially as he's a foreigner. Whatever it is, the writer hasn't hurt the sentiments of the locals and one should laud his respect for the city and the local culture. Accepting the very fact that still there's lot to learn about the city, culture and its people brings the book closer to readers and wins their hearts. 

Note: The original review was published in Sakhi magazine here: http://sakhiexpress.epapr.in/538990/Sakhi/15-July-2015#dual/46/1

Thursday 1 October 2015